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We’re running out of room for grizzly bears

Researchers from the University of Alberta have found that grizzly bears are vanishing as their habitats are fragmented by roads. Study lead author Clayton Lamb sums up the issue by explaining that more roads equal fewer grizzly bears.

The research team analyzed grizzly bear activity in British Columbia and concluded that higher road density leads to lower grizzly bear density. Scientists and environmentalists have believed this to be the case for years, although it had not yet been proven.

“The problem with grizzly bears and roads is a North American-wide issue. This is the first time that strongly links roads to decreased grizzly bear density,” said Lamb. “Not only do bears die near roads, bears also avoid these areas, making many habitats with roads through them less effective.”

Lamb explained that even though roads cannot be immediately converted back into forests, closing them down could make drastic improvements with instant effects. “By closing roads, we can reduce the negative impact of roads in a lot of ways,” he said.

The study was focused on a threatened population of grizzlies in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia. The researchers found that the grizzly bear population in this area was low but recovering.

“Grizzly bears are recovering in a lot of areas, but habitat loss and human-bear conflict remain huge problems that can compromise recovery,” said Lamb.

As of December 2017, British Columbia outlawed hunting and killing grizzly bears. Lamb says that now it is more important than ever before to identify other threats to grizzly bear populations.

“Current road densities in British Columbia represent a problem for bear conservation,” said Lamb. “We are losing wilderness in the province, and there are fewer grizzly bears where road densities are high. We’re taking it another step further and advising that closing roads will do a lot to improve bear populations.”

The research team collaborated with conservation scientists working in British Columbia to develop a land management guide which is focused on maintaining grizzly bear habitats to promote population recovery. Lamb explained that these efforts can also be applied to other grizzly bear habitats in North America.

“I grew up in the outdoors,” said Lamb. “I developed an increasing appreciation for wild places and conserving them. I realized that science was an outlet to protect these places and the species that inhabit them.”

Lamb’s work has already led to plans for some road closures in the Monashee Mountain area.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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